Today is the feast of St. Anthony of Thebes, often called San Antonio Abad here in Latin America to distinguish him from the Franciscan San Antonio de Padua.
This morning I came across this quote, found in Thomas Merton’s The Wisdom of the Desert:
ABBOT ANTHONY taught Abbot Ammonas, saying: You must advance yet further in the fear of God. And taking him out of the cell he showed him a stone, saying: Go and insult that stone, and beat it without ceasing. When this had been done, St. Anthony asked him if the stone had answered back. No, said Ammonas. Then Abbot Anthony said: You too must reach the point where you no longer take offence at anything.
It’s not that we should not speak up against injustice. What is important that we don’t take offense, don’t take things personally, don’t respond in kind.
I wonder if this might be extremely important advice, not just for me but for all who live in contentious situations. I’m thinking especially of post-election US.
A few days after the election I started to write a blog entry which I entitled “Frayed Nerves.” I never finished or published it. But I want to share some of my thoughts at that time in light of the wisdom of this desert father (who died in 356 at the age of 105).
So here are the notes for my “Frayed Nerves” post:
Before the election I avoided any direct commentary on candidates.
After the election, I have been surprised at the reactions I have received on Facebook to what I considered to be merely raising questions. I was surprised at the responses.
My motives were questioned in one response and I was told that a statement I had made was putting down the middle class that supported me. I didn’t know what statement was being referred to and so I wrote a response. The original comment was deleted by the sender.
In another I said that Obama had deported more than previous presidents. Someone questioned this and said “President Obama has deported no-one. The current laws of the U.S. passed by the Congress of the United States are responsible for any deportations from the U.S. Stop blaming a single man for things you don’t like in America. The President alone is not responsible. Why do people not understand this?”
I said Obama because he was president while this was being done, knowing that it is a question of more than one person. But I still believe that President Obama does have some responsibility.
I posted Archbishop Gomez’s statement at a service in which he said that children were going to bed scared. I got a response that said that this fear was learned or deliberately taught.
It appears that people’s nerves are frayed and people are often responding from their gut. I am saddened at this.
But there has been one person I’ve interacted with on Facebook who has been more thoughtful. He is, to put it mildly, much more conservative than I. He wrote one comment on a comment of a friend on something I posted that I found disrespectful. I gently responded and he deleted the comment.
He also responded in a way that I didn’t expect to a quote I posted from General Omar Bradley on war. In a later comment he responded to my concern about Trump with a comment that this is due to the media. I responded gently disagreeing. This was very refreshing.
But then I posted photos of caterpillars that were taking over the front of my house, asking if anyone knew what they were. I soon got people giving them names – male names at first. It was hilarious. I guess this was a needed outlet for frustration. Long live the caterpillars.
Frayed nerves may reveal that all too often we take offense – even when no offense was intended.
The question is whether we can be like the stone that Ammonas beat or whether we pick p the stone and throw it at another.